Expertise in Gamaka
Subrahmanya Shastry’s skill at gamaka was one of the many things that brought him a lot of fame. He had a keen ear for music from a very young age and was excellent at singing. He had a great sense of aucitya – propriety in employing his skill at music to the art of gamaka. He always chose rāgas which could gel well with the story line. What is more important than his skill was the manner in which he would lose himself while rendering poems set to rāgas. This was the feature that was special about him even in his vācana of Rāmāyaṇa. His rendition was like that of a conscious connoisseur sharing his experience with the audience. In this manner, he could help the audience forget themselves and transported them with his art.
Another special feature of Shastry’s gamaka was that he could bring in the flavour of the original verse and its meaning by his mere rendition. He would split the words keeping the meaning in mind. At times, he would alter the sequence of words in a poem to cater to the meaning. He intended to help the connoisseurs enjoy the beauty of the verse from the original and depend less on his explanation. He attempted to draw the attention of the audience to the best aspects of the poems. His explanations were always rich in content. Shastry often chose episodes from the Rāmāyaṇa such as Bharata-vilāpa – Bharata’s lament and Sītā-hanūmat-samāgama – the meeting of Sītā and Hanūmān which are filled with deep and rich emotion. The audience frequently requested Shastry to present these very segments and listened to their hearts’ content. Each time, it gave them an uber-worldly feeling.
kā nu padma-palāśākṣi-kliṣṭa-kauśeya-vāsini
Who is this lotus-eyed lady clad in soiled silk?
Shastry’s emotive rendition of the above line was so memorable that it would linger in the listeners’ hearts for several months.
athavā mocayiṣyāmi tvām-advaiva-varānane
tvāṃ tu pṛṣṭha gatāṃ kṛtvā santariṣyāmi sāgaram॥
I will free you at once! I shall place you on my back and cross the ocean.
Explaining these words that Hanūmān spoke to Sītā, Shastry would say – “In this way, Hanūmān got carried away for a bit and displayed his monkey-nature”.
We have not found any other person in whom scholarship and connoisseurship blended together in such right proportion. For several years, Subrahmanya Shastry performed the Rāmāyaṇa-vācana at the Gokhale Institute for Rāma-navamī. DVG had proposed to the All India Radio that Shastry’s voice should be recorded and should remain in the archives for the benefit of the future generations. He had even written letters to the government for this purpose. Unfortunately, the endeavour bore no fruits.
Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, H Yoganarasimham, Pu.Ti.Narasimhachar, A.R. Krishna Shastri, K.V. Raghavacharya and others were immensely fond of Shastry’s vācana of the Rāmāyaṇa. In the Rasamañjarī series of programmes organised by Yoganarasimham in the All India Radio, Shastry’s voice had been used several times.
Shastry was equally proficient both in Kannada and Sanskrit. As Telugu was his mother tongue, he had some knowledge of Telugu classical literature and could also speak English. He knew Haḻagannaḍa poems quite well. Just as he could render Sanskrit ślokas mellifluously in his voice, he could also sing kanda and vṛttas in the Kannada language, daṇḍakas which others found impossible to render, was quite easy for Shastry and he seamlessly rendered them, set to different tālas.
His Wealth of Friends
Virakesari Sitarama Sastry had great affection for Subrahmanya Shastry and the two were in touch with each other for long years. Devudu Narasimha Shastry too consulted Subrahmanya Shastry quite often and asked him to review his writings.
Subrahmanya Shastry had a large group of friends. He was in touch with many literary stalwarts. M Mariappa Bhat, who was a resident of many different towns, made it a point to meet Shastry whenever he visited Bangalore.
The location of Shastry’s house also facilitated his meeting with his scholarly friends. His residence was located close to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat. Shastry was also very dear to B Shivamurthy Shastry and others with whom he had long years of association.
Sam. Go. Bindu Rao conducted gamaka classes at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat. One day, when he hurried to the Parishat, thinking that he was getting late to the class, he found the institute to be shut. It was still around midnight then! Rao headed to Shastry’s house and spent the night there. The next morning, he went to the Parishat at the right time.
Once, Mysore Vasudevacharya had stayed at Shastry’s house. He had chosen to stay there because of the vaidika atmosphere in the house. When the acharya said - “Tomorrow there is ‘dvācchi’ in our house”, Shastry had poked fun at him - “Acharya! Where did chatva come here from?” (dvācchi => dvādaśī)
Ti.Ta. Sharma, on his way to the Parishat, at times, stopped by at Shastry’s house and had a casual chat with him.
M.R Srinivasa Murthy lived right on the lane on which Shastry’s house was located. His was only a few houses away from Shastry’s. Srinivasa Murthy visited Shastry almost every day. Sometimes, the two would go together to V Si’s house. It was Shastry, who encouraged M.R. Srinivasa Murthy to write the work ‘Rangannana Kanasina Dinagaḻu’, a work which won the hearts of the readers. He also reviewed and edited the work.
After Srinivasa Murthy passed away in 1953, V Si filled up the place as his regular companion. A few years following this, K.S. Narasimha Swamy joined the group of friends as well. K S Na. worked for the Housing Board and his office was located in a building close to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat). Every evening, the three of them would walk till Lal Bagh Main Gate and also visit Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR). This routine continued until 1960, when Subrahmanya Shastry became bedridden due to high blood pressure.
To be continued...
The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020. The original monography by the author was published by Mysore Mulakanadu Sabha, 2001
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